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Health Information For Teens
A peritonsillar abscess is an area of pus-filled tissue at the back of the mouth, next to one of the tonsils. The abscess can be very painful and can make it difficult to open the mouth.
It can also cause swelling that can push the tonsil toward the uvula (the dangling fleshy object at the back of the mouth). This can block the throat, making it hard to swallow, speak, and sometimes even breathe.
If you think you have an abscess in the back of your throat, you need to see a doctor. A peritonsillar abscess that isn’t treated can lead to more serious health problems.
Most peritonsillar abscesses are caused by the same bacteria that cause strep throat. Sometimes, other types of bacteria are involved.
Peritonsillar abscesses usually happen as a complication of tonsillitis. If the infection breaks out of a tonsil and gets into the space around it, an abscess can form. Luckily, peritonsillar abscesses aren’t that common these days because doctors use antibiotics to treat tonsillitis.
Tooth and gum disease can increase the chances of a peritonsillar abscess, as can smoking — more good reasons to brush your teeth and not smoke.
Often, the first sign of a peritonsillar abscess is a sore throat. As the abscess develops, other symptoms start, such as:
An abscess that’s not treated quickly can lead to serious problems — for example, the infection may go into the jaw and neck. If the abscess pops, the infection may spread to the chest and lead to pneumonia.
Call your doctor if you have a sore throat with a fever or any of the other problems that can be caused by a peritonsillar abscess. It’s rare that an abscess will get in the way of your breathing, but if it does, you may need to go to the emergency room right away.
The doctor will examine your mouth, throat, and neck. He or she also may take a throat culture and a blood test. On rare occasions, a doctor may order a CT scan or ultrasound.
The usual treatment for a peritonsillar abscess involves having a doctor drain the abscess. The doctor does this either by withdrawing the pus with a needle (called aspiration) or making a small cut in the abscess with a scalpel so the pus can drain out.
If this doesn’t work, a patient’s tonsils might have to be removed in a procedure called a tonsillectomy. This is especially true for people who have had tonsillitis a lot or who have had a peritonsillar abscess in the past.
If it’s hard to eat or drink, patients may need IV (intravenous, given into a vein) fluids for hydration. A doctor also will prescribe painkillers and antibiotics. Whenever you take antibiotics, always finish the full course of the medicine as prescribed, even if you feel better after a few days. Otherwise, the infection could come back.
People who have a tonsillectomy may need a brief stay in the hospital. That way, doctors can keep an eye on them to make sure everything went as planned.
You can take a few precautions to lower your risk of getting an abscess in your tonsils — like not smoking and making sure you keep your teeth and mouth clean.
But sometimes a peritonsillar abscess is beyond your control. If you think you have an abscess, call your doctor right away. The earlier a doctor diagnoses it, the easier treatment is likely to be.
Everybody’s heard of tonsils, but not everyone knows what tonsils do in the body or why they may need to be removed. Find out here.
You wake up and your throat is swollen and you have a fever. Could it be tonsillitis? Find out what tonsillitis is, how to treat it, and how to prevent it.
Strep throat is a common infection that usually needs to be treated with antibiotics. Find out how to recognize the signs of strep throat and what to expect if you have it.
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There’s a lot more to taking care of your teeth than breath mints and mouth sprays. Read this article to learn the facts on flossing, how to give plaque the brush-off, and much more.
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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